Carlow cause the first shock

 

Championship 2003 Leinster SHC preliminary roundThere are signs the temperature is rising. That championship fever is setting in, and even if Meath against Carlow in Navan was more of a cold appetiser it certainly wasn't bad.

Though far from a 70-minute epic there was enough tension in the closing moments of this Leinster hurling championship preliminary round tie to result in the disoriented aftershock that so often marks championship hurling. For Meath, it means the start of a long summer without hurling. For Carlow, it brings at least another day out, but also progress in the stricter sense.

Before yesterday the Leinster hurling championship seemed something of a curse in Carlow. Three years ago the county ended its brief exile and quickly discovered nothing had changed. So if beating Meath represents a major scalp then so be it.

"I think that's as good a hurling win as Carlow have ever had," said coach Michael Walsh, formerly of Kilkenny fame. And he had a point. Meath were very casual in the first half but when pressing hard for the victory they realised Carlow would not wilt, they were no longer the whipping boys of the preliminary round.

"I think this definitely means progress," added Walsh, now in his third year at the helm. "We had a tough week before this, with internal problems, as people might know. But we were very competitive right through the league, and the lads out there gave it everything. We have another big game next week now and I just hope they can keep it going a bit longer."

Meath were left with no excuses. For too long they were second best on the scoreboard and even when they finally drew level with around seven minutes left to play there was never any sense of superiority. Gary Doyle almost casually restored Carlow's lead and from there to the end the team withstood the best Meath could throw at them.

"I thought we played with great heart for the last 20 minutes," said Meath coach Michael Duignan. "But up to that we were asleep. I know we were hot favourites, and even with the best will in the world players can't just ignore that. But I certainly didn't take Carlow for granted.

"Of course it's very disappointing, but we're not making any excuses. It's a big breakthrough for them and they deserve it. It is back to the drawing board for Meath hurling and I'll have to think about whether I'll be back there with them."

Under the modern championship regime Meath might feel entitled to a second chance, but Duignan doesn't want to know about qualifiers: "My own opinion is we're gone now. Maybe if we had gone further down the line we would have come back into the qualifiers, but being realistic about it, if you can't win matches like that today then we don't have much business going on any further."

Carlow will certainly cherish another game. Eight of the team that started yesterday were under-21, including the entire full back line that performed so fearlessly against the likes of Nicky Horan and burly substitute Keith O'Callaghan.

But the main play-maker was Pat Coady, who started at midfield and ended up with 0-7. Robert Foley and Seamus Smithers were in constant support and Carlow were fully entitled to their 0-9 to 1-5 half-time lead.

Four further points without reply truly set up the Carlow victory, and even with Evan Lynam's long-range goal there would no late, late show for Meath.

The winners of Laois-Wicklow won't have it easy.

CARLOW: E Spruhan; S Sheils, S Kavanagh, D Shaw; K Nolan, L Kenny, Paddy Coady; Pat Coady (0-7, 5 frees), K Inglish (0-1); S Smithers (0-2), R Foley (0-2), G Doyle (0-1); P Keogh (0-2), D Murphy (0-1), B Murphy (0-1). Subs: W Hickey for Paddy Coady (39 mins), S Murphy for B Murphy (45 mins), J Hickey for Shiels (55 mins).

MEATH: M Gannon; S Wallace, P Roche, P Gannon; J Watters, C Sheridan (0-1, '65), M Horan; B Perry, D Fagan; M Cole (0-1), Dan Dorran, C Keena (0-2); E Lynam (1-2), R Dorran, N Horan (1-3, 3 frees). Subs: S Corrigan for Perry (22 mins), K O'Callaghan (0-1) for D Dorran (44 mins), David Dorran for Fagan (54 mins), P Coone for M Horan (60 mins).

Referee: T McIntyre (Antrim).

In Saturday's preliminary round match, Westmeath led from start to finish to record a 2-15 to 0-7 win over Kildare at Clane.

Westmeath started with a point from Andrew Mitchell and had 1-2 on the scoreboard by the time Billy White opened Kildare's account with a free in the 17th minute. The home side failed to score from play in the opening half and Westmeath led by 1-5 to 0-3 at the break.

WESTMEATH: B Conaty; D Curley, B Murtagh, B Williams; N Gavin, C Murtagh, V Bateman; P Dowdall (0-2), C Fanning; B Kennedy, J Shaw (0-6, 1 free), J Forbes; D Carthy (1-3), F Shaw (1-2), A Mitchell (0- 2, 1 free). Subs: N Williams for Forbes 27th, E Dalton for C Murtagh 62nd, G Geoghegan for Kennedy 67th.

KILDARE: C Leahy; P Keegan, E Denieffe, P Beirne; K Divilly, D Harney, D Lahart; P Reidy, R Hoban; B White (0-5, frees), C Buggy, P Brennan; A McAndrew, C Boran (0-1), J Dempsey. Subs: T Spain (0-1) for Brennan, J Kinlon for Hoban, K Wright for Divilly, S O'Carroll for Buggy.

Referee: D Richardson (Limerick).